Veteran journalists repeat call for Freedom of Information Act
The absence of a Freedom of Information Act and whistleblower protection legislation in Barbados does not prevent the media from pursuing certain types of stories, though it can limit what is presented.
So said retired Station Manager of Starcom Network David Ellis, and Editor-in-Chief of the Nation Publishing Co. Limited Carol Martindale, while guests on VOB’s Brass Tacks Sunday radio call-in programme.
They said that journalists should continue lobbying for the enactment of these and other measures which would help the media hold people in public positions accountable while at the same time protecting confidential sources.
“I believe the freedom of Information legislation is necessary in my judgment, and I think some other pieces of legislation are important, like the anti-corruption legislation. That is also very important and whistleblower protection is crucial. These are things I think will help us a lot more right now,” Ellis said.
He also noted that while Barbadians had been calling for more investigative journalism, there were instances where people who came forward with information were ridiculed for doing it.
He cited what occurred earlier this year at the Government Industrial School (GIS), where former board member Marsha Hinds-Layne was removed.
“A lot of people who are talking about the need to investigate also need to look at this society and recognise how intimidating so many people are. There is no whistleblower protection in this country. We just had a recent incident at the GIS and if you listen to how some people spoke about the main spokesperson who revealed the information to the public and who said ‘I was repeatedly trying to get this thing sorted’, that person was treated as though they breached a national secret. It was as if this person should be punished in the eyes of some for doing that.
“And this [is] the same country that has listened to politicians and others talk about the need for whistleblower protection. That says they are not committed to it as a country as they say. It is in that climate that people have had to practise journalism in Barbados,” Ellis added.
Martindale pointed out that over the years, both Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party administrations had promised to deliver on freedom of information legislation, but it had not materialised.
“For some time the media has lobbied for the Freedom of Information Act. That act would allow us to do the job we need to do and to do it properly and responsibly. When I go back to the days of [Nation founder] Harold Hoyte, this has been an issue then and thus far we have not been able to have a Freedom of Information Act.
“Successive governments have spoken about it, it has even been included in manifestos, it has been spoken about and ventilated on political platforms, but when it comes to putting in the work and effort for it to be a reality, we are still waiting,” she said.
Martindale noted that although absolute privilege was allowed when covering such areas as Parliament sittings, the absence of the act was still a hindrance.
“While you may be in Parliament and you may be covered under the parliamentary privileges of reporting what is said . . . there is still room for us to make sure we still lobby for that act because it is critical to what we do. It allows us to execute our tasks responsibly because there are many issues,” she added.
Last August, Attorney General Dale Marshall said Government would be paying attention to the Freedom of Information Bill over the next 12 months. (TG)